Boston is entering the winter with more snow removal equipment than last year and additional contracts with local businesses, but a shortfall of city employees, Mayor Michelle Wu said at a Wednesday press conference.
Speaking in front of 11,000 tons of salt at the Public Works Department’s South End yard, Wu said the city has 170 pieces of snow removal equipment at the ready, plus the ability to have up to 800 pieces of equipment on the roads at a moment’s notice through partnerships with the state and private firms, but she urged residents to offer to help their vulnerable and senior neighbors with shoveling.
Wu also announced contracts with three local businesses — A&M Home Services, Casablanca Services, and NS Contracting — awarded as part of the city’s Sheltered Market Program, which she said aims to create “a pipeline of diverse, local vendors that we can rely on to deliver city services to all our neighborhoods, while keeping jobs right here in Boston.”
“It could be very easy to just to go on autopilot,” Wu said. “We are constantly striving to ensure that we are more ready, more prepared, doing a little better delivering wealth-building and jobs for our neighborhoods.”
Mike Brohel, superintendent of street operations, said the city is struggling to hire new workers who can help with snow removal and has been looking for new ways to incentivize potential hires. He said higher pay is not on the table, though, since the city is in the second year of a three-year contract.
Brohel said contractors have reported being mostly able to find drivers for all their trucks, and the city has seen “nothing that has caused us any kind of concerns.”
On Sunday, the first snowfall, the city saw an increase in accidents and calls to police between sunset and around 9 p.m., when street treatment concluded, according to Stephen McNulty, spokesman for the Boston Police Department. The department did not share the complete count of reported accidents.
Wu said property owners are responsible for clearing their own sidewalks within three hours of snowfall, or three hours of sunrise if snow fell overnight, and asked residents to clear snow from fire hydrants and sewer grates.
Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets, said most snow clearing will be done by city employees, but there is “an army of contractors available for major snow events.”
He said the Department of Public Works built an upgraded fueling station since last year, which will allow clearing operations to continue through lasting snowstorms. The city will also continue clearing crosswalks, curbs, and ramps — maintaining a program piloted last winter — and has appropriate equipment to clear bike lanes in an effort to ensure all modes of transportation stay viable throughout the season.
Franklin-Hodge emphasized that cleared pathways need to be at least 42 inches wide to allow safe access for wheelchair and stroller users. He added that the city prioritizes plowing central arteries like Commonwealth Avenue to allow consistent access for emergency vehicles and requested locals not report unplowed streets until three hours after snowfall.
“Give us time to do our work, but please call 311 if you see streets that need attention,” Franklin-Hodge said.
Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon said Boston is collaborating with nonprofit partners like Pine Street Inn, the region’s largest homelessness services provider, to create additional emergency shelter beds. She said the city has added 142 shelter beds since the fall, in addition to creating warming stations.
Dillon urged residents to call 911 if they see someone on the street during periods of extreme cold or snow emergencies.
“We really need your eyes and ears,” she said. “No one will ever be turned away, we will always find a warm place for our homeless residents.”
Dillon told the Globe that individual entry requirements vary between shelters, but said thresholds based on sobriety and other common barriers will be loosened on extremely cold nights to ensure no one is left on the streets.
Mariama White-Hammond, Boston’s chief of environment, energy, and open spaces, warned that Eversource’s basic service rate could increase by more than 40 percent in January. She recommended residents consider switching to the city’s Community Choice Electricity program, for which rates will be locked in place throughout 2023.
“The city’s program is greener and, more importantly, more affordable than basic service rates, and significantly more affordable than third party suppliers,” White-Hammond said.
She said the city will never send people door to door to talk about electricity, and warned that competitive electric suppliers tend to target low-income, immigrant, and other vulnerable communities with high rates. She urged residents with questions about their electric service to call 311 for reliable information.
“We know that in this time people are often making the choice between food and fuel, between paying your electric bill and paying your rent,” she said. “We are honored to be able to offer this as an important resource to all our residents, and I hope that you will take this time to sign up.”